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Pro-anorexia sites and social media offering a safe haven for sufferers have exploded in recent years


IN 2010, Alex Chernik told his younger sister Natalya, “You got fat.” In most situations, that sort of thing would have ended there, a little teasing between siblings. Natalya and Alex were close; though not biologically related, they were both adopted from Russia by the same family living in bucolic Cheshire, Connecticut, and they teased each other all the time. But that particular jab was to be the last thing Alex said to his little sister. Soon after, when Natalya was 15, Alex killed himself. He was 18.

And so the words quickly took on a disproportionate significance for Natalya. “My mentality was, I want to make him happy,” she says. “I’m gonna lose weight.” Natalya began restricting her calories, poring over nutrition facts on labels, and eventually what had been a healthy, disciplined diet turned into something that looked like starvation. She started visiting and then following Tumblr pages fostering a pro-ana lifestyle—a portmanteau that refers to anything that promotes or encourages anorexia. If she started to feel sick or hungry, she would visit blogs that flaunted lines like Kate Moss’s infamous mantra “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” They motivated her, reminding her that she didn’t have to eat.

Three months after her brother’s death, her parents were taking her to mandatory weekly weigh-ins at the doctor’s office, where she would typically come in at around 90 pounds. She was eventually hospitalized, and doctors performed an endoscopy to examine her digestive tract. When she came to after the anesthesia wore off, a feeding tube was in her mouth. She immediately started choking. She still remembers the words the doctor told her after pulling the tube out: “There is nothing physically wrong with you. You have anorexia.”

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PUTIN'S SECRET WEAPON Every day, the red line ticks up and down. Some weeks it trends higher, others lower. It measures the most important vital sign of Russia’s body politic: the popularity of Vladimir Putin. In the Kremlin they call it the reiting, the Russian pronunciation of rating and the reiting rules supreme over all the nation’s political and economic decisions. When it stands as it did in late May at a comfortable eighty two percent, Russia’s elite breathes easy. When it dips as low at sixty two percent, as it did in 2011 when Putin announced his return for a third presidential term every resource is scrambled to reverse the trend at any cost. In recent times, that has meant anything from staging a lavish Olympic Games to taking the country to war in Ukraine and Syria.